The recent designation of New River Gorge as a national park brings to mind other possibly worthy parks in the Southern Appalachians.
With some 339 state parks in the states of the Blue Ridge coverage area, there are at least a few in the mountains with enough size and superlatives to attract “national” attention.
Let’s explore seven of them. Read more about the other six at https://blueridgecountry.com/
West Virginia: Watoga State Park
While sitting around the campfire with darkness filling the forests, prepare yourself for what happens next in the state’s largest park. For a hint, consider the First Nation name, Watoga, which means “starry waters.” The first surprise is celestial and occurs in “one of the largest and darkest skysheds within the eastern United States”: a universal light show. At this location you can see galaxies, planets, constellations and our own Milky Way. This vast experience recently earned Watoga and Official Dark Sky status in 2021; a designation with rigorous standards only awarded to 60 locations in the country.
“Starry” wonders also happen closer to the ground. For only a few weeks during the year, a rare sparkling light show is performed by synchronous fireflies. Their claim to fame is rhythmically blinking together in time and intensity as well as displays of “wave” lights trailing through the forest. There are only a few species, of the 2,000 on the planet, who synchronize their bioluminescence. These “habitat specialist” lightning bugs need moist forests at high elevations (and serious darkness) to perform their stunning displays. The ecosystems here are ideal; and the park has earned a special designation for this nature-based light spectacle as well.
For daylight adventures, learn about the life of a Revolutionary War hero, Anne Bailey; stand beside 300-year-old trees; run a half-marathon trial race (yes, that’s 13 miles—but what a scenic route!); and, join hundreds of Watoga State Park Foundation nature programs.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (a program in FDR’s New Deal) built roads, trails, walls and cabins. The latter, with native stone, pine and chestnut plus modern renovations are available for overnight stays along with 100 camp sites.
Article used with permission of Blue Ridge Country magazine, from its May/June 2022 issue. For subscription information: blueridgecountry.com